After discovering recently that a documentary is being made about the late Andy Irons, I started thinking hard about the relationship between substance abuse and surfing. In short, it’s a problem. Yes, It has long hindered the sport’s legitimacy, and it has tragically taken the lives of some of surfing’s best and brightest stars. But what I’ve most appreciated over the years is watching the surf industry overwhelmingly choose to glorify, ignore, or enthusiastically enable it. What legends! When Surfing magazine was forced to confront the fact that drugs contributed to Irons’ death (because it was reported as such in the New York Times…and his autopsy), they roiled in denial. Some of the anti-truthers left to start What Youth so they could passionately photograph surfers breathing cigarettes, and Chas Smith went on to develop his swastika fetish and spineless dickish-ness to sights unseen! I, for one, am very impressed. Commitment to ideals! You don’t see that shit often enough. To watch your hero die tragically alone in a hotel room far away from those who loved him from drugs then use any distribution and influence you work hard to create in order to inspire kids to walk into the same deathtrap seems like a brilliant and worthwhile use of time and money. And, quite frankly, I’d like to see everyone follow suit. Get kids hooked early! Then maybe we can watch (help?) them die, then light up a cigarette, wash a Xanny down with some whiskey and pretentiously flick our nose in the air with disgust if and when anyone asks about the truth behind their demise. “Not cool at all, guy! Doesn’t make me feel ‘surfy‘ at all! You must be a loser. Ha. You’re a loser! Surfing is for cool people, not losers!”
So here are five reasons why I’m absolutely enamored with the courage and artistry behind surfing’s glorification of substance abuse. It’s so…dignified.
1) It is incredibly brave. Those who lionize substance use in surfing, be it through imagery, or enabling actions, do so out of a deep sense of artistic integrity and social responsibility. They are brave. They understand that if one is to help reduce the likelihood that another great surfer with a family on the way dies with drugs as a contributing factor – one must put desaturated images of surfers using substances on the cover of as many magazines as possible in a celebratory and context-less manner. And never, ever explicitly address these issues with the intention of learning from them. NEVER do that.
2) Similarly, it is soberingly logical and mature to refuse to participate in constructive discussions of the untimely death of our fallen heroes, like AI, for the sake of not wanting to offend all the cool people who like drugs and/or hate truth, history, or facts. This is, at its core, responsible and admirable, and shows deep empathy and awareness for one’s fellow man. That’s Mother Theresa level ish. Besides, does anyone ever learn anything worthwhile from a true story?
3) Making destructive, depressing, dangerous habits look cool, is cool! To quote NOFX’s Fat Mike, “Drugs are good. And when you do them people think that you’re cool.” Surf companies and media know this, and they love either turning a blind eye to someone’s most corrosive addictions or altogether embracing them. Hell, Quiksilver’s newest campaign is called “Stay High!” Fuck yeah, Quik! Party on! This sends a great message to aspiring groms trying to get sponsored. Assuming they’ve got the skills in the surf but are still having trouble getting noticed by the string pullers, encouraging young up-and-comers to stuff a J in their mouth is a surefire way to at least snag a post on What Youth’s Insty feed. Just thinkin’ ’bout that sweet, sweet Insty feed makes my dick rock hard. And hey, if they can’t handle inhaling cigarette smoke at first (ha, fuckin’ pussies!!) then they can just chug Red Bull, Monster, or any of the myriad energy drinks and rewire their brains and prime their hearts for a short, yet bright future of upper abuse.
4) It makes money! Embracing this bad-boy, reckless, no-fucks-to-give image of surfing fills the coffers of sponsors and athletes, allowing them to stimulate the economy with their purchases. This enables the benefactors to provide an expensive education for their children. Children are our future, after all. And should their rich children pick up a particularly harmful substance abuse problem at an expensive college where more designer drugs are widely available, and make it out the other side, they’ll be stronger for it. And so will we.
5) Similarly, reinforcing the stereotype that surfers should party fucking hard helps people deal with, and often eliminate their problems altogether. A friend of mine’s little brother was having some issues in junior high. Teen angst, exams, girls, acne, braces. All that shit. He had just gotten a mag with Christian Fletcher downing a Coors as a kid on the cover in the mail, and figured he could crush a case of beer before paddling out in a particularly unwelcoming East Coast hurricane swell, because, fuck, Fletcher was a fucking baby, and he was drinking like a champ! Those middle school problems completely disappeared. For him. Because he did too.
So go ahead. Keep making partying look super rad. It’s our culture! Keep refusing to talk about the consequences of poor decisions. Build more heroes. Watch them die alone, confused, in shock – in a way you wouldn’t wish upon your greatest enemies. Watch their friends and families struggle in plain view on social media. Then work hard to inspire kids to walk the same plank. Brilliant work! It’s art! It’s integrity. It’s surfing! Bravo, surfing. Encore! Encore!
Editor’s Note: Sarcasm! Sometimes more effective than earnestness!